Did you know that Australia is the sixth largest country in the world? 32 times bigger than the United Kingdom! It’s no wonder that so many travelers want to explore every bit of it, but it’s also difficult to decide which routes to take and what places to visit. To help you plan the perfect Australia road trip, we are giving you the ultimate backpacking guide. We’re breaking down the top three backpacker routes in Australia and including an itinerary for each so you can maximize your time here!
Warning: this guide may induce an extreme bout of wanderlust so get ready to book that ticket to the land down under as soon as you finish!
Travel Insurance for Australia
No matter how long you plan to stay in Australia, it’s important to have travel insurance. This will ensure you’re protected and compensated for all unexpected expenses, such as loss of baggage, flight cancellation, and expensive medical bills. World Nomads offer a free quotation on their website and prices normally start at U$115 for a one-month insurance plan.
You will most likely need a visa to enter Australia unless you’re from New Zealand. There are different types of visas available to travelers. The most common is the tourist visa which allows you stay up to three months. If you plan to work and travel in Australia, you can apply for the Working Holiday Visa instead, which allows you to stay for one or two years. The visa application cost depends on the type of visa you want and the passport you have. You can find more information here.
Transportation in Australia
Hire your own Camper Van
Our personal recommendation and not as expensive as you would think, in fact, a campervan gives you mobility and freedom and a roof over your head. There are lots of options to choose from, which can also be a bit daunting when reading through the terms and conditions. However, you can always message Chris from Mad Monkey Adventures who will steer you to the right solution, take a look at some of the van hire options here.
This is the fastest and most convenient, but also the most expensive and least environmentally friendly mode of transportation. Unless you find a good deal or sale from airlines (check Webjet, Jetstar, and Tiger for flights to, from and within Australia) we don’t recommend flying when you’re on a tight budget.
Buses are a lot more affordable than flying and luckily, Greyhound goes to most places in Australia. It also has travel passes that are perfect for long-time travelers who are looking to save on some cash. You can choose the Whimit pass if you’re a wherever-my-feet-will-take-me kind of traveler. This lets you take any route you want for a set number of days. You also have the option to take the Hop On Hop Off bus. This pass has a set direction but allows you to get off at whichever stops you’d like and continue on after a few days, as long as you complete the entire trip within a month.
The only downside of choosing this transportation is that you are limited to the schedule of the buses. You also must pre-book seats to make sure you can be accommodated.
Car Sharing in Australia
There are websites that connect riders to car owners who have pre-scheduled trips to certain destinations. This is generally cheaper because you’ll just chip in on the fuel and toll expenses. It’s perfect for those who are social and looking to make friends while traveling. If you want to give this a try, you can check out Coseats, Shareurride, Catchalift and the Australia Backpackers Facebook group.
Buying your own car
If you plan to stay longer, you can consider buying a second-hand car. A lot of backpackers who are leaving after spending a year in the country sell their cars at very low prices. If you choose to purchase a campervan, you’ll also be able to save on accommodation expenses. You can then split the costs with your group of friends or invite other backpackers to join your trip. If you’re taking this option, make sure to research the rules about driving with a foreign license since it varies depending on where you go. You can find listings for used cars on Gumtree, or check Facebook groups here, here and here.
Backpacker Routes in Australia
And now we get into the nitty-gritty. There are three main backpacker routes that we’ll get into – highlights, photos, points of interest, distances, and maps included. Each route is unique and has so much to offer – hell, if you’ve got the time, may as well do them all! These would ideally be done as a road trip, but you can try to work it out with buses as well, and even flights if you’re short on time. Each route will be divided into cities, for your convenience. Let’s get started:
East Coast Australia: Melbourne to Cairns Itinerary
- Distance: 3,500 km
- Total hours on the road: 40 hours
- When to go: December to February when the weather is hot so you can enjoy the beaches
- Recommended minimum travel time: 3 weeks
- Highlights: Experience two of Australia’s top cosmopolitan cities, taste Australian vintage wines, discover the underwater world of the Great Barrier Reef, and swim, snorkel, and surf in some of the world’s most beautiful beaches
- Package Deals: You should consider that activities are generally cheaper when buying as a package from a reputable supplier. There are a number of East Coast Australia package deals available that can end up saving you 50% or more.
Melbourne | 3 days
Start your road trip from Melbourne and check out Flinders Street Station, the first train station built in all of Australia. You can also visit St. Kilda Beach and stroll around until you get to St. Kilda Pier where you can have an awesome panoramic view of Melbourne’s skyline.
Sydney | 3 days
Travel to Sydney after a few days and spend a morning meandering around the Sydney Opera House and Sydney Harbour Bridge. If you are feeling brave book yourself on a Sydney Harbour bridge climb for the ultimate selfie. Have a picnic at the Royal Botanic Gardens and end the night in the beautiful Darling Harbour. The next day, stretch your legs by doing the Bondi to Coogee walk and reward yourself with a cocktail at Coogee Pavilion Rooftop. Check out our One Day in Sydney Itinerary and our full Sydney Backpackers Guide for more! If you are landing in Sydney a good way to save money is to consider a Sydney arrival package, this will save you money on your key tours and initial accommodation in the city whilst you get your bearings.
Book your stay at Mad Monkey Coogee Beach for your trip in Sydney!
Hunter Valley | 2 days
Get your boozy on in Hunter Valley, just a couple hours drive north of Sydney. We recommend dropping off your car and going on a pre-arranged tour so you can sample all the wines your liver can handle. Make sure you check out Brokenwood Wines and Peppertree Wines for some tasty wines. Do yourself a favor and grab some delish cheese from the Smelly Cheese Shop. You can book your Hunter Valley wine tour here.
Byron Bay | 3 days
Your next major stop will be Byron Bay, about an 8-hour drive from Hunter Valley. You’ll want to head straight to Fishmongers so you can reward yourself with some fish and chips. Take it to go and bring it to the Byron Bay Main Beach, which is just a few steps away. The next morning, wake up early and catch the sunrise from Cape Byron Light and go on the lighthouse tour. Save money with a Byron bay package including your surf lessons, check out individual Byron Bay activities here, we can recommend the Nimbin Day Tour.
Gold Coast | 2 days
Head up to Surfers Paradise next, just an hour north of Byron Bay. What better way to experience this coastal city than to actually surf? Beginners to experts will find the big waves thrilling. After an intense surf sesh, go to House of Brews for a wide range of craft beers to cool you down. Switch it up the next day and get up close and personal with nature at Lamington National Park.
Brisbane | 2 days
Next stop is Brisbane, an hour up the coast. Known as “The River City,” Brisbane is best explored through River City Cruises. This tour will bring you to the major landmarks of the city. When you’re done, you can have lunch and some drinks in one of the artsy and trendy cafes and bars located at the hipster-central Brunswick Street. Before you leave Brisbane, don’t forget to check out Lone Pine Koala Sanctuary where you can meet some of Australia’s unique wildlife.
Noosa | 2 days
You can put your surfing skills to good use in Noosa’s Main Beach, another two hours north. If you’re in the mood for a long walk and an adventure, choose one of the suggested trails and explore Noosa National Park. After that, drive north for a few more hours until you reach Fraser Island, the largest sand island in the world. Drive through 75 Mile Beach, a long stretch of fine white sand that’s considered a National Highway. Drop by Eli Creek and enjoy swimming, wading, and tubing through the waters.
Airlie Beach | 3 days
Next, you’re going to make the long trek to Airlie. Spend a relaxing afternoon in Airlie Beach’s lagoon where you can sunbathe with a good book or enjoy a picnic with friends. From there, you can take a boat to Whitsunday Islands, the heart of Austalia’s Great Barrier Reef. It has a whopping 74 island, the most popular ones being Hamilton and Hayman Islands. You can spend the whole day swimming, scuba diving, snorkelling and admiring the unbelievable reefs of the islands. Luckily Chris at Mad Monkey Adventures is a bit of a specialist when it comes to the Whitsundays so if you want some advice on price busting packages for the best tours and activities check some of the Airlie Beach & Whitsunday options here.
Townsville and Cairns | 3 days
Another three hours drive north will bring you to Townsville. Here, you should head straight to The Strand where you can stroll and bike around the park, grab a bite, and enjoy the view out to the Magnetic Island or what most people call, “Maggie”. You can travel to the island by boat in just 20 minutes. Spend your time horseback riding along the beach and catching the amazing sunset from the shore. End this route with a high note by choosing between riding a hot air balloon ride or skydiving over the Great Barrier Reef in Cairns.
South to North via the Red Centre: Adelaide to Darwin Itinerary
- Distance: 3,500 km
- Total hours on the road: 40 hours
- When to go: April to October, when the weather is cooler
- Recommended minimum travel time: 3 weeks
- Highlights: Experience Australia’s vast desert and famous outback, stay in an underground hostel, see Australia’s iconic and majestic red rock during sunrise or sunset, and immerse yourself in the traditional Aboriginal culture
Mad Monkey Insider Tips:
This route will take you to Australia’s desert and outback. Drives can be long and you will see little to no civilization between stops so make sure to bring a friend, plenty of entertainment (get those Spotify playlists ready) and loads of snacks and water. Also, make sure you always have enough fuel before setting off to your next destination. There are signs on the road that let you know where the nearest petrol station is so that should give you a good estimate when to fill up your tank. If you can, stay at every stop for a minimum of three days so you can have time to rest and explore in between your drives.
Tip #1: In case of a car breakdown, stay in your car, keep hydrated, and wait until someone passes by. Walking around in the sun will drain your energy, which you’ll need in the desert.
Tip #2: If you’re doing this in a campervan, there are plenty of overnight parking camps where you can stay. Download the Wikicamps app to check the ones nearest to you. If you prefer to sleep in actual beds, there are hostel options in each of your major stop. You can check out Central YHA in Adelaide, Desert Cave Hotel in Coober Pedy, Outback Pioneer Lodge in Uluru, Haven Backpackers in Alice Springs, and Melaleuca on Mitchell in Darwin.
Adelaide | 3 days
The adventure starts in South Australia’s capital, Adelaide. Begin your first day getting to know the lay of the land by spending time roaming around the Central Business District. Visit Victoria Square and check out the iconic Three Rivers Fountain and the statue of Queen Victoria. After a leisurely walk, head to the nearby Gouger Street to look for a delicious meal. It’s the city’s very own Chinatown offering a variety of Asian cuisines at different price ranges. After filling up, you can drop by the Art Gallery of South Australia to browse through the amazing collection of new and old artworks from artists around the world.
Just an hour away from Adelaide is Barossa Valley, which is home to some of the largest winemakers in South Australia. The cellar doors are open to all wine enthusiasts. Make sure to try a bottle of Shiraz, the region’s specialty.
Coober Pedy | 3 days
This route’s venture to Australia’s outback begins in Coober Pedy so giddy up for some wild, wild west experience. It’s more than eight hours away from Adelaide so prepare for a long drive. The town is known to be the home of opal mining. Because it gets so hot, especially during the summer season, most places are built underground.
Do not miss out on visiting Tom’s Working Opal Mine or Old Timers Mine and learn about the industry and the different tools and machinery they use. Drop by Faye’s Underground Home which was built by three ladies for a total of 10 years using just picks and shovels. For fans of the movie Mad Max 3, you might also want to check out Crocodile Harry’s Underground Mine and Dugout where the movie was filmed. There are also plenty of underground churches, underground bars, and underground bookshops to see. On your way out, check out the spectacular, out-of-this-world views of the Breakaways, a conservation park that used to be part of an inland sea over 70 million years ago.
Uluru | 3 Days
You’ll spend another eight hours on the road to get to Uluru or Ayer’s Rock. It’s where you can find Australia’s most iconic red rock. It’s a 348-meter high and 10-km long sandstone caused by erosion millions of years ago. The Anangu are the traditional owners of the land and they ask tourists not to climb the rock as they consider it sacred. You can learn about the life, traditions, culture, and arts of the Anangu people in the national park. They have both paid and free scheduled tours and activities.
There are a variety of accommodations available in Uluru from service-apartment, luxury hotel, hostel, to a camping ground. You can bring your car and go on a self-guided tour to the red rock, but the sunrise and sunset tours are definitely worth it. Make sure to book ahead as they can only accommodate a limited number of people per tour. Kata Tjuta (or the Olgas) is another impressive rock formation just a 45 minute drive west of Uluru. These sandstone domes are believed to be around 500 million years old and are also sacred to the Anangu people.
Alice Springs | 3 days
The capital of Australia’s Red Centre is Alice Springs, which is more than five hours from Uluru. To get your bearings in the area, start in Araluen Cultural Precinct. Then, explore the Sculpture Garden, the Museum of Central Australia and the Namatjira Gallery. Visit the Olive Pink Botanic Garden to see the exotic plants and bush foods that grow in the area. If you’re looking for a challenge (and you’ve got plenty of time), you can also trek the Larapinta Trail, which is around 250 kilometers long. Not for the faint of heart, this is the ultimate bushwalking experience where you’ll traverse through rocky ridges and extensive plains.
Darwin | 4 days
You’ll be driving for more than half a day from Alice Springs to Darwin. But you can take a relaxing break from your long drives and stop by Mataranka Thermal Pools. Take a long dip in the warm spring water. When you’re ready, continue north until you reach your last stop on this route, Darwin. Explore Litchfield National Park and get up close with the different wildlife in their natural habitat. If you’re interested in history and culture, you can also join the Pudakul Aboriginal Cultural Tour and learn more about their way of life.
Western Australia: Perth to Broome Itinerary
- Distance: 2,800 km
- Total hours on the road: 30 hours
- When to go: September to November so you can take advantage of the whale watching season
- Recommended minimum travel time: 2.5 weeks
- Highlights: Catch amazing views of the Indian Ocean, get up close and personal with Australia’s unique wildlife, such as quokkas and Monkey Mia dolphins, swim in stunning crystal blue waters (including one beach without sand!), and meet the world’s oldest living organism
Perth | 3 days
Welcome to Australia’s sunniest capital city, Perth! Spend the morning strolling around Kings Park and Botanic Garden with an amazing view overlooking the Swan River. There are free guided walking tours (10 AM and 2 PM) you can join where you can learn about the unique flora surrounding the 400-hectare park.
In the afternoon, you can go to the city’s most popular beach, Cottesloe Beach or “Cott”, as locals call it. It’s perfect for swimming, surfing, and snorkeling. There are also some restaurants and bars where you can grab dinner and drinks. If you’re looking for more calm waters, you can try Mullaloo Beach where the sunset is gorgeous.
The next day, take a morning ferry across the Indian Ocean to Rottnest Island and spend a full day here. It has 63 gorgeous beaches and 20 stunning bays so you definitely won’t run out of things to do. You can explore the island on foot or by bike which you can get from Pedal and Flippers. For those who prefer a more comfortable way of getting around the island, you can take the Island Explorer Bus.
Check out Wadjemup Lighthouse, which gives you an amazing 360-degree view of the entire island. Take a selfie with the famous and friendly quokkas (but don’t touch or feed them!), which roam around the island between mid to late afternoon. You can spot osprey nests at Fish Hook Bay, get close to the New Zealand fur seals at the Cathedral Rocks, get a glimpse of stingrays in Thomson Bay, and watch dolphins feeding and surfing in Salmon Bay. If you visit between September to December, you might even get a chance to see the whales from the West End’s viewing platform.
Swan Valley | 1 day
Another side trip worth doing is Swan Valley. It’s just 35-minutes outside of Perth is Swan Valley and is the oldest wine region in the country. Spend a day here if you want to wine-hop to different cellars and wineries.
Geraldton | 3 days
On your way to your next stop, you can drop by Pinnacles Desert which is located in Nambung National Park and just over an hour away from Perth. It features thousands of limestone pillars with different shapes and is made of yellow sand.
After exploring, continue driving for five hours to the seaside city of Geraldton, which is known for its water sports. If you want to give windsurfing or kitesurfing a try, go to Coronation Beach and rent some equipment. Don’t leave the city without visiting the Hutt Lagoon, a pink lake which changes colors depending on the time of the day. The pretty color that transforms from bubblegum pink to lilac purple is caused by the presence of algae in the water.
Kalbarri National Park | 2 days
Just over two hours to the north, the Kalbarri National Park is filled with Murchison River gorges and formations, which can be viewed from different lookouts such as The Loop, Z Bend, and Hawkes Head. The park is also surrounded by a variety of flora and fauna and also offers different activities from bushwalking to canoeing. There are also some accommodations nearby so you can stay for a few days and take your time to explore the area.
Shark Bay | 3 days
From here, continue driving for four hours to the Shark Bay World Heritage Area, home to the most diverse marine life. You can start your journey at the Hamelin Pool where you can see the world’s oldest living organism, the Stromatolites. Stroll along the boardwalk to check out these living fossils which date back to 3.5 billion years ago.
In the afternoon, make your way to a beach without sand. Shell Beach is made up of billions of small Coquina Shells. It’s the perfect place to soak up the sun and enjoy crystal blue waters. The next day, you can go to Monkey Mia and get cozy with the famous bottlenose dolphins. They visit the shore up to three times a day and you can one of the lucky ones to get to feed them—definitely a great one-of-a-kind experience!
Coral Bay | 1 day
More than five hours north of Monkey Mia is Coral Bay which has stunning coral gardens just a few meters away from the beach. You can swim and snorkel with the manta rays the entire day.
Exmouth | 1 day
More than two hours’ drive away, Exmouth also offers other exciting activities such as kayaking over Ningaloo Reef and swimming with whale sharks.
Broome | 3 days
Your last leg of the trip is the longest. You need to drive half a day to Broome where your west coast road trip ends. Here you can join a pearl tour with Pearl Luggers and watch a movie at Sun Pictures, the oldest outdoor cinema. You can also set up a sunset picnic on Cable Beach to celebrate your one helluva trip.
Australia Road Trip Inspo
Want a taste of life on the road in Western Australia? Then check out this video!
More Articles About Australia Road Trips & Backpacking Routes
Planning an epic trip through Australia and need all the resources you can get? Check out these other links to help you plan the perfect holiday.
- Australia’s Most Popular Backpacking Routes from Travellers Autobarn
- Australian Road Trips: The Ultimate Guide from The Travelling Tom
- Popular Backpacking Route in Australia from MyFunkyTravel
- 10 Epic Australian Road Trips for Backpackers from The Broke Backpacker
- 7 Adventurous Australia Road Trip Itineraries by Milly Barratt from Travel Nation
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